mon 25/05/2020

Tetzlaff, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Chailly, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Tetzlaff, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Chailly, Barbican

Tetzlaff, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Chailly, Barbican

Zarathustrian joys and passions stun in the high noon of a stylish residency

Riccardo Chailly commanding StraussMark Allen

In practice as well as in prospect, the second in Riccardo Chailly’s Strauss/Mozart trilogy was a concert of two very different halves.

In practice as well as in prospect, the second in Riccardo Chailly’s Strauss/Mozart trilogy was a concert of two very different halves. The first offered small Bavarian and Austrian beer in the shape of Strauss’s fustian Macbeth, unbelievably close in time to the masterly Don Juan which blazed on Tuesday, and a pretty but just a little too anodyne Mozart violin concerto at the other end of Mozart’s prodigious composing life to the last work for piano and orchestra, which had amazed us in the first concert. Part Two was pure LSD: Also sprach Zarathustra, in which I’d hoped Chailly would invest some of the clear-textured grandeur slightly misapplied to Ein Heldenleben at the launch of the Leipzig mini-residency.

It was even better than that. When have you ever heard the rolling energy of the “Joys and Passions” section more superbly nuanced than by the Leipzig violins in perfect synch with the horns? This one took flight as the more heavily-scored climaxes of Ein Heldenleben had not. Was there ever a more terrifying midnight bell than the one struck here – iron, I’m guessing, rather than the usual tubular discretion – to accompany truly orgiastic revels as Nietzsche’s Uebermensch (“Superman” seems a dim rendering) goes berserk?

The task is to rekindle some of the sheer astonishment that hooked young musicians like Bartók, turning decisively to composition as a result, in the late 1890s. Most composers today would kill for the kind of sounds that glint in Strauss’s spider-web, following one another in kaleidoscopic procession as he forges his own poetic tribute to Nietzsche, the genius who inspired his own artistic independence.

Christian TetzlaffChailly knew how to achieve the right balances for everything, even if the first astonishing flight into cerulean blue skies seemed a little contained. It comes out of a doggedly scientific fugue on all 12 notes of the chromatic scale kicked off by back desks of double-basses and cellos: music for the eye as much as the ear, which strained to catch the whispered note-rows. At the other end of Strauss’s anything-goes philosophy was the lilting Viennese waltz offering leader Frank-Michael Erben a more modest triumph after his peerless impersonation of the composer-hero’s wife on Tuesday. And Chailly made sure that we always heard the three-note theme enshrined in Kubrick's 2001 powering the dance.

Basses and brass were the underpinning heroes of Macbeth, with the kind of fanfares – stretching into the 1940s to characterise Jupiter in Strauss’s penultimate opera Die Liebe der Danae – we know all too well from John Williams’ Star Wars score and others of that ilk. This felt, in the closeness of the Barbican acoustic, like a film score turned up too loud in a Leicester Square cinema – a tale told by a conservative 19th-century composer full of sound and fury, signifying no matter from the heart. When Macbeth finally falls, after an extra bout of battle-thrashing which could well be cut, the shadowy gestures around Macduff’s victory did at last make some kind of original impact.

Macbeth at least made the tiny forces for Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G all the more welcome; this is the kind of ensemble that sounds best in the venue. As in Tuesday’s 1791 concerto, there were no trumpets or timpani; but, a starring role for oboes apart, this elegant work with a host of attractive melodies asks for none of the subtle dialoguing with the soloist we’d had between the Gewandhaus strings and Maria João Pires. Even so, Christian Tetzlaff (pictured above by Giorgia Bertazzi) made the best possible case for pure song, managing a delicious swell on the top note of the slow-movement theme, and driving never too aggressively forward, dropping extra pearls of ornamentation as he went.

  • Last concert and masterclasses today, 23 October, at the Barbican and Milton Court

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